Health officials rely on sign language interpreters to share pandemic information

Posted at 9:02 PM, May 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 07:23:45-04

As state leaders provide consistent updates on the coronavirus pandemic, many lean on American Sign Language, or ASL, interpreters to understand the message.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports nearly 203,000 people statewide who suffer from hearing difficulties.

Jenny Buechner is one of the interpreters that Gov. Tony Evers and health officials depend on to provide accurate information to that portion of the public.

Since Jenny is deaf herself, the governor’s words are relayed to her through hearing interpreters. TMJ4 News communicated with Jenny through an interpreter.

"They learned American Sign Language as a second language, so they sign what they hear to me and then I translate it or interpret it even further into American Sign Language just make sure it makes sense to a native American Sign Language user," said Jenny.

Like English, ASL is complex. A lot of grammatical structure is in the facial expression to convey the message's tone.

For example, Jenny explained eyebrows go up if there is a question and down if there is a statement, again depending on the speaker's tone.

"Our language is a visually-based language we show concepts so we’re not going to sign exactly the words that are being fed," Jenny explained.

The state’s updates, like most television programs, are also closed captioned, but Jenny says ASL gives the deaf community an alternative to captions and reaches more people.

"American Sign Language is easier for deaf individuals to understand because we are visually based individuals. That is how we are raised to communicate you know visually. We weren’t raised to read words to understand fully what it's saying necessarily so that’s why captions may not be the best fit for everybody," said Jenny.

With ever-evolving information throughout the pandemic, Jenny keeps up with the news and deaf community organizations to see how they are signing certain concepts for consistency. She even rewatches her signing to make sure she's getting the message out clearly and correctly.

When she's not translating for the state Jenny works as an interpreter full-time, called for settings such as doctor's appointments and legal proceedings. Jenny enjoys what she does and wants people to know that being deaf is not a horrible thing, there are some benefits.

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